how to safely wash a sweater

Lucky you! You've got some really nice sweaters. And cashmere!

By now, they've been worn a few times and need a date with the washing machine. But you hold back, not wanting to lose that new look and feel.

Believe it or not, sweaters can survive the laundering process - and even come out looking good. You just have to know how to launder each type of fiber.

First of all - just because dry cleaning is expensive does not mean that it's the best care for all sweaters.

The dry cleaning chemicals can build up in some fibers and leave them stiff.

sweater washing guidelines by fabric:

  • Acrylic: Acrylics are man-made fibers that can stretch when subjected to heat. Wash as directed on the label (usually warm water). Then either lay the sweater flat to dry or tumble dry on low if the label says that's OK. If you have to iron it, iron it inside out on low heat and be careful not to stretch it. 
How to safely machine wash sweaters.
  • Angora: Angora is a blend of rabbit hair and synthetic fibers. It's very prone to shrinking so this is one fabric you may want to consider dry cleaning. If the label says it can be washed, don't put it in the machine. Instead, hand wash in a gentle fabric wash and lay it flat to dry.
  • Cashmere: Cashmere is made of goat hair blended with wool or synthetic fibers. Again, go by the label instructions. Usually, you can wash cashmere on the delicate cycle in cold water. Roll in a towel to squeeze out excess water, reshape and flat dry away from sunlight or direct heat.
  • Chenille: If you want chenille sweaters to stay soft, don't put them in the washing machine - even if the label says it's OK. The rubbing caused by the machine agitation can damage the fibers and make them snag or feel rough. Instead, wash inside out by hand and lay flat to dry.
  • Cotton: Usually, you can hand or machine wash cotton sweaters in cool water. Lay flat to dry. It may need ironing.
  • Silk: As long as it isn't beaded or have any other hand-stitched decor, most silk can be safely washed in the machine on its delicate cycle in cold water. Lay flat to dry. It may needed ironing afterward.
  • Wool: Some wool can be washed; others cannot. Check the label. If you do put it in the washing machine, use the gentlest cycle and wash in cool water. Don't twist. Lay flat to dry. Also, not all wools are alike. Shetland and Merino wools can be washed in cold water on the most delicate cycle. Agitation can cause them to shrink.

sweater washing and drying tips.

Always turn sweaters inside out to reduce pilling. (Those little fuzzy balls or bits of fluff that show up on the surface are called "pills", and are the result of fiber agitation in the washing machine, which can cause them to break).

To prevent this, wash in an extra-large mesh bag. If hand-washing, remove excess water by rolling the sweater in a towel. Don't wring - you'll do the same damage to the delicate fibers as a washing machine.

  • Drying: If you do put your sweater in the dryer, dry on low heat and remove it when it's almost dry and let it finish drying flat on a rack.
  • Flat drying: Place the sweater on a rack and reshape it as much as possible. Do not dry near heat or in direct sunlight. Check it occasionally to make sure it's not shrinking as it dries. If it does, pull it back out to its original size. (Mark the outline on your rack with tape.)
  • Pilling: If pilling does happen, the best way to remove it is to gently shave the surface with a plastic safety razor. But very, very gently.
  • Storage: Don't put away a sweater dirty. This makes it more attractive to pests. Also, some stains may set. Once clean, fold to store it. Don't hang it, as this may cause it to stretch out of shape.
  • To make sweaters last longer, air them out at least 24 hours after wearing. Fold and store out of direct light.

For more information on clothing tags and care labels, read the Guide to Garment Care Symbols from The American Cleaning Institute.






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› How to Safely Wash a Sweater

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About the Author

Tara Aronson is a native Californian. Having grown up in San Diego, she studied journalism and Spanish to pursue a career in newspaper writing. Tara, whose three children - Chris, Lyndsay, and Payne - are the light of her life, now lives and writes in Los Angeles. She also regularly appears on television news programs throughout the U.S.